WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (WGHP) — Mike Foster is the first to acknowledge that the place he runs is not ordinary.

“The word’s out that there’s something a little different about the Street School,” said Mike, the executive director of the Winston-Salem Street School. “Right now, we have 63 on our high school roster … We also operate an adult online program and there are 41 on that roster.”

That may not sound like a lot, but as they celebrate 20 years of working with kids who often need all the help they can get, Mike keeps count of the lives the school has helped turn around.

“310 total since we started,” Mike said. “We had 29 last year, which was our biggest graduating class that we’ve had.”

These are often students who come with significant baggage.

“A lot of our students don’t have the support system that they need at home. About 80% come from what we would consider a broken home,” Mike said.

These are kids like 16-year-old Avniel Hernandez.

“I feel like my home life was very bumpy, especially with me and my parents because they knew every single time I was high. They’d see me, and they’d tell me, and, I would lie to them,” Hernandez said. “What really hurt me was the fact that every single time that they would tell me that I was high, it kind of felt like I was being stabbed … It really hurt.”

Hernandez knew he needed something different, and so did 15-year-old Selena Sierra.

Sierra’s situation got bad enough for her to have a suicide attempt last January.

“My grades dropped. I was always a very high achiever. I was an honor student,” Sierra said. 

The pandemic was hard for her. 

That was my driving factor. I wanted my grades. I worked so hard for them … When they just dropped like that, it really hit me hard,” Sierra said.

So why does the Street School seem to have success where traditional schools don’t?

“Most of our class sizes are around a 10-to-1 student-to-teacher ratio … A lot of times, that’s what’s missing for these students … Definitely not a knock on the public school system. It is what it is, but when you’re in a school of 1,500 kids and a class of 35 … If you have any particular needs or challenges that are going on in your personal life or whatever it may be, sometimes that’s not going to get picked up on,” Mike said. “When I say our students really have some weight issues and some baggage … Whether it’s gang affiliation in our family or they’re trying to get away from it or maybe they’re a new mom.”

Mike keeps a small note taped to the top of his computer monitor that says: “Please be extra kind to me.” 

It’s something he keeps in mind when dealing with his students.

“If a student truly buys into the program here … We have about a 93% graduation rate, which is pretty strong, especially when you talk about the target population of students that we work with because they’re students that didn’t find success in the public school environment for numerous reasons,” Mike said.

Mia Foster is the prime example of what the Street School can do.

“When I came into Street School, I was a broken shell of a human being,” she said..

Mia is from a family of seven, and her parents often had financial issues. They moved to North Carolina from California just as Mia was starting high school. Once schools went virtual during the pandemic, Mia couldn’t cope with it and began drinking heavily and got kicked out of her house.

“I had been sexually assaulted. I had been abused. I had been homeless. I had been in numerous life-and-death situations. That’s where my addiction took me,” Mia said.

The Street School is exactly what she needed.

“It’s for people that have been dealt a bad hand of cards in life and want a second chance,” <ia said.

She’s now three years sober, a Forsyth County EMT and is engaged to be married.

Mia speaks proudly of the Street School, but is that a name you want for a place that gets kids off the streets? 

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Does being at a “Street School” leave a stigma on them long after they’re gone?

“That’s a good point, and I think we’ve worked really hard the last couple of years because I think we just took that for granted,” Mike said. “We’ve talked about a name change, and we rebranded a couple years ago and gave ourselves a little bit of a different look … But we kept the Street School moniker, and we talked to a lot of students about that. We got their feedback and they said, ‘No, we like the credibility of what Street School says.’”

See how the Street School works in this edition of The Buckley Report.